A desperate situation has overtaken the national organizing structure of the Republican Party: the party’s primary electorate is heavily skewed by radical anti-government fringe politics, while the national culture has shifted—demographically and ideologically—away from right-wing jingoism and militancy. The party’s leadership no longer has adequate friendly political affiliation throughout the base and the rank-and-file.
Consequently, some observers now believe the party has been rendered functionally irrelevant. It talks of austerity, fiscal responsibility, small government and tax cuts, but its actions show a pathological disregard for the actual wellbeing of the American people and the security of the national economy. It may be possible to show that the tug-of-war between a pseudo-populist fringe base and top-level billionaire funding interests is doing this to the party.
The perverse politics that requires the party to adopt a hapless “burn-it-down” attitude toward nearly every issue of major structural relevance to the future of our economy—healthcare reform, tax policy, immigration, assault weapons, the debt ceiling, the funding of earned entitlements and the fiscal cliff negotiations—may seem irrevocable. But there are some easy things Republican leaders can do to pull their party back from the brink.
First of all, it became clear to most astute observers that despite the wild inspirational quality of the 2008 election environment, both Pres. Obama’s governing style and the mood of the country, confronted with such pervasive and long-running economic and security perils, were nudging the political apparatus of the country toward a focus on pragmatic problem solving. In 2010, the Republican Party misunderstood that mood change, instead retrenching into a deep ideological groove, and in 2012, the election clearly showed support for Pres. Obama as the leader in this pragmatic problem-solving mission.
So, to abandon ideology and adopt an approach to principle pragmatic problem-solving, committing to work with anyone willing to do the hard work of governing and serving, is a necessary first step toward regaining relevance and taking part in important national achievements. The president has consistently made the case that he is doing this, and the public has supported him in that effort. The top-level Republican leadership needs to steer its next-level legislative leadership into this mode, to help organize a party-wide transformation that will allow for more reasoned, more rational negotiating on issues like the negotiations about the Bush tax cut expiration and budget sequestration—the twin perils that have become known as “the fiscal cliff”.
Here’s how that can happen:
- Walk away from lame duck Grover Norquist, whose zero taxes ever pledge is now seen by most Americans as a direct threat to the nation;
- Reimagine the meaning of the word “entitlement”—to most Americans, and as a matter of law, entitlements are “earned benefits”;
- Commit to acting with profound respect toward those earned benefits and basic services (like quality education) that no citizen is willing to give up;
- Walk the walk on Constitutional liberties and immigration: small government and family values are incompatible with an effort to round up 15 million people, throw them in camps, then send them out of the country;
- Get with the Dreamers: people view the DREAM Act concept as integral to the American Dream and conducive to a more prosperous and democratic future;
- Be rational about Defense: from 2001 to 2012, the Pentagon budget expanded nearly four-fold, due to two ongoing wars, which are now ending;
- Make a deal with Obama that shows genuine willingness to compromise: that means give without crippling the nation;
Most Americans believe Pres. Obama has consistently shown willingness to bend, to find the compromise necessary to serve the interests of the American people. Polls show most Americans will blame Congressional Republicans if a deal is not reached. Pres. Obama has rightly said the nation “cannot afford a politically self-inflicted wound” to the economy.
The Fiscal Cliff negotiations are an incomparable opportunity for the Republican leadership to eschew the logic of partisan sabotage as an organizing principle, and act in service of the American people.